Today is John Milton's 400th birthday, and if most of the world does not know or care, it's slightly comforting that some do.
Because when you are an English major, John Milton is very important, and when you have a good teacher explaining him to you like Hermine van Nuis, he even becomes accessible.
There may be some who would read Paradise Lost outside of a classroom--I wouldn't be one of them. But when it's for class, and for a grade, and ultimately, for your degree--you crack open the book and start reading. And thank God for an instructor like Dr. van Nuis, who helps you make sense of it, by taking it all apart so it means something, then putting it back together, so it's poetry again.
How long did she lecture on just these opening lines?
Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse,that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
So there's the whole thing he's going to attempt--just the fall of man. Just a little light reading for the weekend.
I wonder what Milton would have thought of what we do here, online--blogging, Twittering, updating Facebook and MySpace? Would he embrace it, or be abhorred?
Milton was totally blind when he began writing "Paradise Lost". He was 50. I'm going to remember that the next time I'm casting about for something to write about, or lamenting my lost youth and all the words I did not write.
For this is our journey, too:
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.
Happy Birthday, John Milton!